An unrivaled soul legend. A postpunk pioneer. An up-and-coming rapper who defied boundaries. Music lost these stars and more in 2018. Spanning genres and generations, here are eight musicians that changed playlists everywhere for the better.
Mac Miller (January 19, 1992–September 7, 2018)
Influenced by the laidback sounds of OutKast, A Tribe Called Quest, and Lauren Hill, Mac Miller was upfront about his substance abuse and depression. ‘I ain’t normal, I’m clinically insane/I guess it’s the result of drugs that enter in my brain’, he rapped on his No. 1 debut album, Blue Slide Park (2011). These themes would reoccur in the albums that followed, which resonated with his growing fan base. Born Malcolm James McCormick in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the troubled rapper made headlines this year with the end of his two-year relationship with singer Ariana Grande and drunk-driving arrest in California. Just a month after the release of his fifth album, Swimming, Mac Miller died at 26 years old from a lethal mix of fentanyl, cocaine, and alcohol.
Aretha Franklin (March 25, 1942–August 16, 2018)
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Franklin was the undisputed Queen of Soul, selling over 75 million records and winning 18 Grammys. Her gospel-powered vocals fueled hit after hit in the 1960s: ‘I Never Loved a Man’, ‘Chain of Fools’, ‘Baby I Love You’, ‘I Say a Little Prayer’, and the civil-rights anthem ‘Respect’. As an African American, Franklin also lent her star power and donated frequently to the movement. She recorded more hits in the 1970s along with two of her most celebrated albums, Live at Fillmore West (1971) and Amazing Grace (1972). Later career successes include the albums Jump to It (1982), Aretha (1986), and A Rose Is Still a Rose (1998). In 2008, Franklin was ranked the greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone. Performing until September last year, Franklin passed away from pancreatic cancer at 76.
Jill Janus (September 2, 1975–August 14, 2018)
A rarity in the world of heavy metal, Janus was the female lead singer of Huntress and member of the Starbreakers and Chelsea Girls. Citing classic opera as the foundation of her harrowing screams, she trained in the genre as a kid until hearing Suicidal Tendencies at 13 years old. After stints as a DJ, cabaret host, and member of Vexy Strut, Janus formed Huntress in 2009 with boyfriend Blake Meahl, releasing three albums and music videos for ‘Eight of Swords’, ‘Zenith’, and ‘Sorrow’. Born in the Catskills, she was open about her lifelong struggles with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and dissociative identity disorder, advocating for mental health. Janus ultimately took her own life at 42, and her body was found outside in Portland, Oregon.
XXXTENTACION (January 23, 1998–June 18, 2018)
The Florida rapper, singer, and songwriter (real name Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy) did not play by the rules in music or in real life. First making a name for himself on SoundCloud, XXXTENTACION was equally known for his genre-blurring mix of hip-hop, R&B, punk, and heavy metal (from the hazy cloud rap of ‘SAD!’ to the hellish snarls of ‘Floor 555’) and troubled past and ongoing legal issues. In fact, his sophomore album, ?, was recorded while XXXTENTACION was placed on house arrest and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this March. It was only three months later that the rising star was shot and killed while being robbed in South Florida. He was 20 years old.
Avicii (September 8, 1989–April 20, 2018)
Born Tim Bergling in Stockholm, Sweden, the DJ and producer hit it big with his EDM-defining singles, including the anthemic house track ‘Seek Bromance’, the Etta James-sampling ‘Levels’, and the folk-tinged ‘Wake Me Up!’, which topped the charts in 22 countries. Featuring Adam Lambert, Nile Rodgers, and MØ, his debut album, True, peaked on the Billboard 200 at No. 5. However, facing serious health problems—including pancreatitis caused by alcohol abuse and several hospitalizations—Avicii retired in 2016 from touring at 26 years old, revealing that he had ‘too little left for the life of a real person behind the artist’. Out of the spotlight two years later, he committed suicide with a broken wine bottle at a hotel in Muscat, Oman.
Seo Minwoo (February 8, 1985–March 25, 2018)
Minwoo was part of the unstoppable K-Pop phenomenon as the lead singer and frontman of 100%. Previously acting in several television series and one movie, he was handpicked for the Korean boy band in 2012 as one of its seven members. Recording four single albums and four EPs, Minwoo was featured on ‘Bad Boy’, ‘Want U Back’, and ‘Sketch U’. But from March 2014 to December 2015, he temporarily left the band to complete mandatory military service. Minwoo’s sudden death at 33 from a suspected drug overdose at his Seoul home shocked K-Pop fans around the world. Currently with four members, 100% has continued to tour and record music.
Mark E. Smith (March 5, 1957–January 24, 2018)
An icon and veteran of English postpunk, Smith was the vocalist, songwriter, and only constant member of his band, the Fall, releasing 32 albums over four decades with an ever-changing lineup of musicians. Smith’s experimental approach to music, half-sung vocal style, and abstract lyrics shaped the sound of indie rock in the 1990s. Plus, the band’s best known songs, ‘Totally Wired’ and ‘Hit the North’, routinely make critics’ best-of lists. Smith was also notorious for his heavy drinking, controversial statements, and erratic behavior. Legend has it that he fired a studio engineer over a salad. Performing until the very end in a wheelchair in November 2017, the Fall frontman died of kidney and lung cancer at 60.
Dolores O’Riordan (September 6, 1971–January 15, 2018)
With her lilting Irish brogue, the Cranberries’ lead singer ruled both alternative and mainstream airwaves during the early 1990s. The sleeper ethereal hit ‘Dreams’, the lushly romantic ‘Linger’, and the much heavier protest song ‘Zombie’ from the group’s first two albums were global smashes and pop-culture fixtures. After recording two more albums with the band, O’Riordan embarked on a solo career and released two albums (2007’s Are You Listening? and 2009’s No Baggage), then rejoined the Cranberries in 2010. She formed another band, D.A.R.K., five years later with Andy Rourke of the Smiths and producer and boyfriend Olé Koretsky. In early 2018, at a hotel in London, the 46-year-old accidentally drowned in a bathtub due to alcohol intoxication.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or other personal issues, there’s always help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for free, confidential support 24/7.